15 March 2008

China: Poisoning its Way to Riches, Power, and Responsible Solar Energy?

Polysilicon is a popular material for building photovoltaic (PV) panels, but has been in short supply. Consequently, the price of polysilicon has gone up from US $20 per kg to over US $300 per kg in 5 years. Chinese industrialists intend to cash in on the production of this newly valuable commodity. Chinese polysilicon factories are poised to produce double the polysilicon currently being produced around the world. Is there a downside to this Chinese boom in solar energy?
In China, a country buckling with the breakneck pace of its industrial growth,...stories of environmental pollution are not uncommon. But the Luoyang Zhonggui High-Technology Co., here in the central plains of Henan Province near the Yellow River, stands out for one reason: It's a green energy company, producing polysilicon destined for solar energy panels sold around the world. But the byproduct of polysilicon production -- silicon tetrachloride -- is a highly toxic substance that poses environmental hazards.


Because of the environmental hazard, polysilicon companies in the developed world recycle the compound, putting it back into the production process. But the high investment costs and time, not to mention the enormous energy consumption required for heating the substance to more than 1800 degrees Fahrenheit for the recycling, have discouraged many factories in China from doing the same. Like Luoyang Zhonggui, other solar plants in China have not installed technology to prevent pollutants from getting into the environment or have not brought those systems fully online, industry sources say.

"The recycling technology is of course being thought about, but currently it's still not mature," said Shi Jun, a former photovoltaic technology researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Shi, chief executive of Pro-EnerTech, a start-up polysilicon research firm in Shanghai, said that there's such a severe shortage of polysilicon that the government is willing to overlook this issue for now.

"If this happened in the United States, you'd probably be arrested," he said.__WaPo

On the one hand, Chinese suppliers are making an important material in solar energy production more available. On the other hand, these Chinese factories are ignoring common rules of toxic waste disposal, while paying Chinese government officials to look the other way.

Apparently the news media considers this situation remarkable because the pollution is being done in the name of green energy. But honestly, the monstrous pollution spewed into China's air, onto its soil, and into its waters should be reported as important news every day--until something is done to stop it.

False, invented crises such as "climate change catastrophe" take up far too much of the media's (and the public's) attention, while serious and genuine environmental catastrophes go looking for interested parties.

China is poisoning itself in the name of wealth, power, and world clout. It is also poisoning the rest of the world through its pollution, and its poisoned toys, medicines, toiletries, and unsafe parts for critical machines.

How fascinating that the media cannot be bothered, and the public cannot be concerned over that.

Hat tip Earth2Tech

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Blogger Snake Oil Baron said...

"The recycling technology is of course being thought about, but currently it's still not mature,"

Except in the developed world apparently.

If it is too energy intensive to recycle it cheaply can a method of reacting it with something to form a less polluting product be used?

Sunday, 16 March, 2008  
Blogger Hell_Is_Like_Newark said...

Is solar even worth it then? How much energy does it take to make an array vs. the amount of useful energy it produces over its lifetime?

I rep for a solar company (one of the items in my product line). I can only justify the cost of solar PV when the govt. pays most of the installation costs, plus creates an artificial market for selling energy credits (similar to carbon credits).

NJ program has gone belly up because the costs of the subsidies bankrupted the program. The energy credit scheme is still alive, only because its cost is borne by the rate payers who are forced to pay extra for their electricity.

I wonder if solar, ethanol, and other heavily subsidized / mandated alternatives will one-day disappear when we can no longer afford to pay for them.

Sunday, 16 March, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

Baron, it seems that China is not yet part of the developed world.

HILN: Solar cannot provide year-round full power to New Jersey homes. PV will help a lot, once the costs of PV plus better storage become reasonable. Solar thermal might work for homes, given better heat collectors, storage, and scaled-down heat engines such as the Stirling, or similar designs.

Monday, 17 March, 2008  

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